It is hard to deny the conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton has had a good couple of weeks. A strong debate performance, a bullet dodged when Vice President Biden decided against a presidential run, and – the conventional wisdom will say – an appearance before the House Select Committee on Benghazi in which she emerged not only unscathed but probably advantaged. Times are good in Clintondom. But I offer a caveat to Clintondom.
The Benghazi committee hearing alone was almost certainly never going to harm Secretary Clinton politically, and that should never have been among its purposes. If she had engaged in actionable wrongdoing with respect to the Benghazi attack, that would certainly spell trouble for her, but it never seemed likely that such evidence existed. Still, it is important to remember that the email scandal is broader than, and not necessarily related to, the Benghazi inquiry. It was through that inquiry that we learned about her unusual email arrangement, and that arrangement gave rise to many of the factors that resulted in delays in, and money spent on, this committee’s work. She cannot blame the Republicans for that. But the arrangement itself is a different matter. While it seems clear for now that she has engaged in no actionable wrongdoing with respect to what happened in Benghazi, she remains under investigation by the FBI with respect to the email arrangement. I am confident that Jim Comey will not allow the investigation to be influenced by politics, one way or the other.
And if you (understandably) missed the last 10 minutes of today’s hearing, you may have missed the most important part. One should have no doubt that Trey Gowdy is a smart, conscientious, and talented legislator. Unfortunately, he was placed in an untenable position today by people and circumstances beyond his control. But his final questioning of Secretary Clinton was not for nothing, and showed why he is not to be underestimated. It also showed why Secretary Clinton’s persistently dismissive attitude was of little help to her when she was rigorously cross-examined about her emails; even she was forced to admit that Rep. Gowdy asked fair questions that deserved answers she could not (or would not) give.
So while politically she gains from today’s hearing, legally she remains on tenuous ground. Smart people that I respect have enumerated the offenses that she might have committed. That’s not crackpot stuff; it’s federal criminal law. Perhaps nothing will emerge from the FBI’s email investigation. But today’s hearing did nothing to resolve that matter in her favor.